Roger Marie Élie Etchegaray ([ʁɔʒe ɛtʃɛɡaʁaj]; 25 September 1922 – 4 September 2019) was a French cardinal of the Catholic Church. Etchegaray served as the Archbishop of Marseille from 1970 to 1985 before entering the Roman Curia, where he served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (1984–1998) and President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (1984–1995). He was elevated to the rank of cardinal in 1979, the longest-serving cardinal never to attend a papal conclave.
He served as papal representative in delicate situations. Some were ecclesiastical, like improving relations with the Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, organizing an historic inter-religious prayer service in Assisi in 1986, and seeking rapprochement with Communist governments. Others were geopolitical, attempting to prevent international violence, arranging an exchange of prisoners, or bearing witness to the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis.
Early life and ordination
Etchegaray, of Basque ancestry, was born in the Northern Basque Country to Jean-Baptiste and Aurélie Etchegaray. The eldest of three children, he had two younger siblings, Jean and Maïté; their father worked as an agricultural mechanic. All his life he spoke French with the accent of his native region.
He attended the minor seminary in Ustaritz and the major seminary in Bayonne before studying at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, from where he obtained a Licentiate of Sacred Theology and a Doctorate of Canon Law. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Jean Saint-Pierre on 13 July 1947.
Priest and bishop
Etchegaray then did pastoral work in the Diocese of Bayonne, also serving as secretary to Bishop Léon-Albert Terrier, secretary general of the diocesan works of Catholic Action, and vicar general. He then served as deputy director (1961–1966) and later secretary general (1966–1970) of the French Episcopal Conference.
On 29 March 1969, Etchegaray was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Paris and Titular Bishop of Gemellae in Numidia by Pope Paul VI. He received his episcopal consecration on the following 27 May from Cardinal François Marty, with Cardinal Paul Gouyon and Bishop Władysław Rubin serving as co-consecrators, at Notre-Dame Cathedral.
Archbishop and cardinal
Etchegaray was named Archbishop of Marseille on 22 December 1970 and served until 1984, when he took up assignments in the Roman Curia. He was twice elected president of the Conference of French Bishops, serving from 1975 to 1981. On 8 April 1984, Pope John Paul II named him President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He held first of those positions until 2 December 1995 and the other until 24 June 1998. In Rome he lived in the Palazzo San Callisto, a Vatican property in Trastevere.
He was made Cardinal-Priest of San Leone I by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of 30 June 1979. On 24 June 1998, he was appointed Cardinal Bishop of Porto-Santa Rufina. Etchegaray was elected Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals and served from 30 April 2005 until 10 June 2017, when he was relieved from the duties of his position at his own request.
Popes Paul VI and John Paul II used Etchegaray as an diplomatic agent even when he was still Archbishop of Marseille and before he had Curial titles associated with human rights. He visited Eastern Europe on their behalf several times in the 1970s. In 1980 he became the first cardinal to visit China and visited again in 1993. He improved the relations with the Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow. He was a key organizer among others of the first World Day of Prayer for Peace that brought together more than 160 religious leaders in Assisi on 27 October 1986. It was the broadest representation of international religious leaders ever assembled.
Etchegaray made his first trip to Cuba in 1989, and spent nine days there, between Christmas and the New Year’s Day. His Cuban tour was capped by an meeting with Fidel Castro during Christmas week at which Etchegaray underlined the social contribution the Church provided to the Cuban health service, the pride of the Cuban regime.
The meeting underscored an easing of tensions between Church and state in the officially atheist country, where practicing Christians and Jews have been objects of government repression for almost 30 years.
In 2006, the Catholic Church, again through Cardinal Etchegaray, gave the Greek Orthodox Church another relic of St. Andrew.
In December 1985, he led a Vatican team invited by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to visit prisoners of war held in Iran. He visited Baghdad in 1985 when he helped to arrange an exchange of prisoners of war between Iran and Iraq while they were at war. In 1998, he visited Baghdad to determine if a papal visit was feasible.
He first visited Rwanda in 1993 in an attempt to reconcile the warring parties. In June 1994, amidst the violence of the Rwandan genocide, he visited the site where three bishops were assassinated and officiated at their funeral. He crossed the country to deliver the same message to the government and its rebel opposition.
U.S. invasion of Iraq
The Vatican opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and sent Cardinal Etchegaray as an envoy to persuade Iraqi authorities to cooperate with the United Nations in order to avoid war.
In 2003 he received the journalistic prize Golden Doves for Peace awarded by the Italian Research Institute Archivio Disarmo.
- Knight Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour.
- Commander in the National Order of Merit (France).
Injuries sustained during papal attack
On 24 December 2009, Cardinal Etchegaray was knocked down along with Pope Benedict XVI when 25-year-old Susanna Maiolo jumped over a barrier and grappled with the Pope, who was making his way through St Peter's Basilica in procession for Christmas Eve mass. The Pope was not injured, but Etchegaray suffered a broken leg and a broken hip. He had been standing a few metres away from the Pope and was knocked down in the scuffle. The Vatican said Maiolo was "psychologically unstable" and had lunged at the Pope previously.
In 2015, Etchegaray fell in St. Peter's Basilica during Mass and broke his leg for the second time.
Return to France and death
Etchegaray returned to Bayonne, France, in January 2017, to live with his sister Maité (d. 13 February 2018) in a retirement home in Cambo-les-Bains near Espelette, the village where he was born. Catholic News Agency journalist Andrea Gagliarducci described Cardinal Etchegary's retirement from Rome as "the end of an era". He had farewell meetings with Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI before he left. Pope Francis accepted his resignation as Vice Dean of the College of Cardinals on 10 June 2017.
Etchegaray died on 4 September 2019. At the time of his death he was the oldest living cardinal following the death of Cardinal Pimiento Rodriguez one day earlier on 3 September 2019. Etchegaray was the longest-serving cardinal not to participate in a papal conclave.